By Jerry Duggan
Fifteen years ago in Cleveland, a group of graduates of Jesuit institutions voiced a desire to gather a larger group of Jesuit alums working in the city’s downtown area. They started by organizing a luncheon with a local speaker, planting a seed that has since grown, with chapters of JFAN (Jesuit Friends and Alumni Network) popping up in every corner of the country. The Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province is home to two chapters: in Denver and in Kansas City, Mo.
The Denver group, called Denver Jesuit Alumni Network (DJAN), was founded about five years ago under the guidance of Fr. Tom Cwik, SJ, who, at the time of the group’s founding, was serving as pastor at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish, a Jesuit parish in downtown Denver. He, along with Fr. Roy Joseph, SJ, helped get the group off the ground.
According to Ann Cohen, who has been involved in the Denver branch since its founding and today serves as its treasurer, Fr. Cwik envisioned the group as a vehicle to foster connections and networking opportunities for those who attended either a Jesuit high school or Jesuit college and call the Denver area home.
“Father Cwik sensed that there were a lot of potential benefits from Jesuit alums getting together: to socialize, network and strengthen their connections, not just to their particular alma mater but with Jesuit alums who were educated all over the country,” she said.
An estimated 50,000 Jesuit-educated persons live in the Denver metropolitan area. Some 35,000 of those attended Regis University and the other 15,000 were educated elsewhere. This provides a shared ethical and spiritual foundation for many.
The group recently sponsored a virtual presentation on Ignatian imagination and social justice by Christopher Pramuk, associate professor of theology and the University Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination at Regis University. (Check out his talk on YouTube).
In pre-COVID times the organization hosted several in-person events annually. During Lent, a fish fry was held at Arrupe Jesuit High School. Every June, the group attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game. In early August, the group held a send-off event at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish for local high school graduates before they went off to Jesuit colleges and universities across the nation. An informational event was held every fall to encourage members to get involved in community service.
According to Cohen, what makes these events special is the attendees.
“We get all ages, from those in their 20s to their 80s, at these events, and while many of our participants attended Regis, we have some from schools as far away as Fordham and Holy Cross,” she explained. “It’s great to see how people of all ages and from schools spread out across the country can come together to network and socialize. Their shared Jesuit education and the values it instilled in each of them is what brings them together.”
The group hopes to grow in the coming years. The possibility of a post-pandemic world has given hope for a return to in-person events.
Susan Friedrichsen is the main impetus behind the JFAN chapter in Kansas City. Friedrichsen is a Jesuit alumna and the director of Ignatian Spirituality Center. She approached Fr. Mark McKenzie, SJ, then-provincial assistant for pastoral ministries of the UCS Province, with the idea of launching an affinity group. After receiving his blessing, she reached out to Fr. Terry Baum, SJ, then–president of Rockhurst High School, and a domino effect occurred within the local community.
Today, Kansas City’s chapter of JFAN has a mailing list of about 200, as Friedrichsen’s vision that she got while attending a WUJA (World Union of Jesuit Alumni) Conference in Cleveland is being realized.
“I remember being at that conference and looking at a map of Jesuit schools all across the nation and thinking ‘It would be really neat if Jesuit alums in Kansas City, who were educated all over the country, could come together in some way,’” she recalled.
Friedrichsen founded the Kansas City chapter in that spirit of inclusivity.
“We are a chapter of Jesuit Friends and Alumni Network, meaning you do not have to be Jesuit-educated to be on our mailing list or to join our events,” she said.
This opens the door to spouses of Jesuit alums, in addition to those who are simply inspired by Jesuit values or want to learn more about Ignatian Spirituality.
Friedrichsen was clear about the group’s purpose.
“We are a ‘friend-raising’ organization, not a fundraising organization,” she said. “Our goal is not to raise money but to unite Jesuit alums from schools across the country, and, in doing so, draw us all closer to our shared Jesuit values.”
Like the Denver group, Kansas City’s JFAN chapter held several events a year before the pandemic threw a wrench into its plans.
Gathering for food, fellowship and fun, the group held breakfasts in addition to several evening events with guest speakers and socialization afterwards. One speaker, author Chris Lowney, talked about Jesuit-rooted leadership lessons by Pope Francis, as well as his latest book.
The group also hosted a basketball watch party on a Saturday when two pairs of Jesuit schools in the Big East Conference (Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette and Xavier) faced each other in men’s basketball, and hopes to return to hosting in-person events in a post-pandemic world.
Many event attendees do not know each other beforehand. While some of the group’s core participants are from the Kansas City area and attended midwestern Jesuit schools such as Rockhurst High School, Rockhurst University, Creighton University, Marquette University and Xavier University, many moved there from all over the country. It is a diverse group, united by one thing, what Friedrichsen calls the “Jesuit bond.”
“Whatever our differences may be, there is a universality amongst our experience – our Jesuit education instilled certain values in all of us,” she said. “The goal of this organization is to bring everyone who shares those values together.”
To find out more about DJAN or get involved, click here.
To find out more about Kansas City’s JFAN chapter or get involved, click here.